Lab automation systems are used in all types of research, from life science sample prep to environmental testing and monitoring and materials processing and purification. The instrumentation used in these automated applications is similarly diverse, including all manner of lab instrumentation and equipment. Researchers are finding ways, and manufacturers are creating devices, to automate any application or procedure that takes an excessive amount of time to perform manually or obtain accurate results. Indeed, nearly two-thirds of the researchers recently surveyed by the editors of Laboratory Equipment magazine indicate that accuracy and productivity are the two primary reasons they look to automate some of their lab operations. Other reasons noted by the survey respondents include reliability (50% of the respondents), cost savings (33%), staffing issues (22%), hazardous materials concerns (17%) and the ability to have 24/7 lab operations (16%).
Reasons noted by the survey respondents for not automating some lab operations were dominated by the cost effectiveness of automating the operations (69% of the survey respondents). Other reasons noted for the lack of automation include space requirements (25%), problems with equipment interfaces (22%), process complexity (18%), limited productivity improvements (17%) and a lack of technical support (16%). Of those lab researchers who indicated they had at least some part of their operations automated, the average number of operations was approximately 17%, with 15% of the survey respondents indicating that more than 30% of their lab operations were automated.
About 60% of the survey respondents indicated that the material they process with their automation equipment was liquid, with solids (35%), biological cells (25%), powders (25%), gases (14%) and gels and pastes (13%) also being processed.
The most common automation equipment noted was autosamplers, centrifuges and stirrers, shakers and mixers—all mentioned by about 44% of the survey respondents. Chromatography (42%) and liquid handling systems ( 34%) were also noted as being used.